x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

No plans to add lifeguards in Dubai

Despite drownings, the municipality says existing safety rules are enough - provided beachgoers pay attention to warning signs.

Jumeirah Beach in Dubai: Swimmers are being more careful after three men drowned in separate incidents on the same day.
Jumeirah Beach in Dubai: Swimmers are being more careful after three men drowned in separate incidents on the same day.

DUBAI // Authorities have no plans to introduce more lifeguards on the emirate's beaches, a municipal official says, despite three drownings this month.

Martin Hayle, a tourist, and Paul Gradon, a Dubai resident, both aged 50 and British nationals, died off the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) Open Beach in separate incidents. Another Dubai resident, Haja Mohammed Ismailuddin, a 26-year-old Indian, died at Umm Suqeim 1 Beach.

Municipal safety measures to protect swimmers were already in line with global practices, said Ibrahim Mohammed Juma, who heads the municipality's coastal engineering and waterway management office.

Mr Juma described the deaths as tragic, but said the public ought to take warnings and water safety regulations seriously.

"Currently I cannot say Dubai Municipality will increase lifeguards all along beaches, but we do have certain initiatives," he said. "We clearly distinguish between beaches with and without lifeguards through safety instruction signboards. This is a worldwide practice: some beaches have lifeguard towers fully equipped with a flag system and other public beaches do not."

Mr Juma said his department was in talks with police and government bodies about various "initiatives". He did not provide specifics.

On the beaches last weekend, people said they were being more safety-conscious.

Karam Al Shaar, a student from Syria, said he took the weather conditions seriously. "I remember that Friday," he said, pausing from playing volleyball with friends on the JBR beach. "I was running on the beach but avoided swimming because the weather was unsuitable. What's the point of losing your life?"

Visitors to the same beach yesterday said that although people were responsible for their own safety, authorities should increase the number of lifeguards on beaches.

"We always see patrol cars but that's not enough," said Yasmin Hashim, a Dubai resident from Iraq. "We were there before the drownings happened and decided to sunbathe instead of swim."

Four vehicles including police, coastal rescue and municipal patrols were on duty on the open beaches on the day of the drownings, Mr Juma said.

In addition, under the flag system adopted by beach resorts in the JBR area, a red flag was flying that day. Some hotels also had lifeguards on duty.

Those who witnessed the incidents said the drownings had left an impact upon them.

Firas Hassan, a Dubai student from the Palestinian territories, was at the JBR beach last week and said conditions had made swimming hazardous.

"The waves were so high but people still swam," Mr Hassan said. "We heard screams and people panicked. Police and ambulances rushed to the scene."

One man was removed from the scene by helicopter before dozens of onlookers, he said.

Mr Juma stressed that inspectors and rescue teams were always on patrol, warning people against entering the water in dangerous conditions - advice that he said was not always heeded.

"Even at beaches where we have lifeguards working until after sunset, reminding people 'no swimming at night', people still swim," he said.

Yesterday, many beachgoers could be seen walking past the safety signboards without stopping to read the instructions.

Aya Baker, an Egyptian lawyer based in Dubai, said people ignored warnings and swam in dangerous weather. "The concerned authorities should put lifeguards and flags for an extra precaution," she said. "How about putting a safety limit in the sea so swimmers cannot go beyond a certain point?"

Mr Juma said that warnings and signage could go only so far towards preventing more deaths. He gave an example of an inspector who reported he had given a verbal warning to an individual while on beach patrol, only to find later that the same person had ignored the caution - with tragic consequences.

"The man drowned," he said. "The inspector had explained to him the rough sea condition and that there was a very strong current. The problem is a lot of people are not obeying instructions."

Mr Juma stressed that beaches were safe for swimmers who took the proper precautions. "Obey the rules. It's very simple," he said. "We are, at the end of the day, trying to save lives."

melshoush@thenational.ae